Jump to content


Balanchine's Muse


  • Please log in to reply
62 replies to this topic

#1 Dale

Dale

    Emeralds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,025 posts

Posted 14 November 2002 - 07:51 PM

I think one of the advantages the later muses had regarding their place in history was that they were able to dance Balanchine's entire rep. We know what Farrell was like in Tallchief's roles (Scotch Symphony, Allegro Brillante, Swan Lake, Nutcracker), but we've never seen Tallchief dance, say, Chaconne or Walpurgisnacht Ballet.

Plus, recordings of Farrell are more readily available (until the two Tallchief tapes were recently released). Farrell also was a star during the "Ballet Boom." Descriptions of her in many books that came out during the 70s and 80s, especially in the collected reviews of Arlene Croce. Also, Farrell's story has a gothic allure. I think Croce wrote in her review of Farrell's autobiography that it was the perfect story for an anti-romantic age.

I don't like comparing the muses - they're all wonderful :) But this thread reminded me of an interview from Ballet Review called, "Diana Adams on Suzanne Farrell" with David Daniel. It's interesting to read one great ballerina commenting on another. Here's a few of Adams' responses regarding the place Farrell had as Balanchine's muse.

"The simple fact remains that no one has ever worked with him the way (Farrell) has. I remember saying to Mme (Nathalie) Gleboff (of SAB) - it was towards the end of Suzanne's third year in the company - "no wonder he wants her to do everything. All you have to do is look at a class. She's the only one who does everything he asks."

Adams spoke about how difficult Balanchine's class was, "But Suzanne! She just did it -- everthing -- as if she didn't know or care that it was supposed to be difficult. ... If Balanchine said to do something, she never bothered to consider its difficulty or impossibility. She assumed it was possible, and did it. If he made a suggestion to her she applied it immediately and without question. She didn't hold back, didn't argue. She never even said, `But...' Now that may not seem unusual to you, but I've seen dancers argue with Balanchine about the correct way to do a plie. ... The intensity of her concentration was almost terrifying to watch. He'd give one of his paralyzing combinations; you'd be exhausted even before the music started. but Suzanne would zip through it without batting an eye. She didn't even sweat. Whatever quirky movement or odd rhythm he gave, she'd take it in and feed it back to him. He began to make things harder and harder. Suzanne inhaled and kept going. Balanchine was thrilled to have a dancer like that, and he often said so."

On her gifts: "Suzanne is unusual for the sheer qualities of her physical gifts. Yes, she's a natural adagio dancer, but she's also naturally very speedy." ... "Almost any dancer, regardless of her gifts, begins her career by accepting a limitation about herself. By the time she is in terms of her physique and personality, she has typed herself as a soubrette, or an allegro, lyric, dramatic, adagio, or whatever ... Suzanne didn't; she bypassed the idea of self-classification according to type as if the idea never existed, which meant that every ounce of her talent was available to Balanchine. She refused to limit herself. Whatever Balanchine thought was possible, she thought was possible. ... There wasn't anything she couldn't do. Her range is unheard of. I remember once, a few yeas after I stopped dancing, I remarked to Balanchine that in one week Suzanne had danced ballets from the reperatories of virtually every important dancer he'd ever worked with besides dancing pieces he'd made for her. He just sort of nodded and said, `Well, you see, dear, Suzanne never resisted.'"

That last comment is possibly why Farrel is often put ahead of the muses.

I also came across an opinion of Tallchief in an old interview I just read with Andre Eglevsky in Ballet Review with Baird Hastings.

"(She was) quite lovely. Clean -- technically brilliant. In Sylvia, in the coda, she did releves en attitude en avant, (turning) both arms closed at unbelievable speed, and this is what Balanchine set. Really unbelievable speed, really she was brilliant. Clean, neat, feet nice. Very musical."

"You can see (the musicality) in certain parts, especially in something like Allegro Brillante, the ability to go from allegro to adagio work very easily, the transitions from very fast little steps to more expansive work."

"She was a finished dancer. She had quality. she had excessively fast technique. She could fouette with eyes closed. Her balance was exquisite. ... Balanchine always choreographed things where Maria was just balance -- Scotch, Sylvia, Nutcracker, everything, the ends, just balance -- everything was balance for Maria."

And the great thing is, you can see Sylvia Pas de Deux now and it does have many balances. Just as Diamonds shows off Farrell's ability to be off balance/yet stay on balance, or Allegra Kent's flexibility and remoteness in Episodes and Bagaku, or Melissa Hayden's swagger in Stars and Stripes. Or the 2nd movement of Symphony in C, which I had seen many times before seeing a picture of Tamara Toumanova in a tutu. When I did, I saw she had great, strong, thick legs. And then I thought about the moment in the second movement when the ballerina in a supported arabesque, slowly bends her knee and then gets up slowly and then repeats it in the other direction. Balanchine used those strong legs and made something beautiful that ballerinas would have to contend with for years.

I also agree with Leigh that there is a link or a "lineage" of the muses that is even relected a little bit today - Toumanova to Leclerq to Adams to Kent and Farrell to Kistler and a little Calegari to, I don't know Kowroski and Meunier?

Or Marie-Jeanne or Mary Ellen Moylan to Tallchief to Wilde and Hayden to Verdy to Ashley to Nichols (who does have a little bit of the Toumanova line in her) to Wheese perhaps, although Margeret Tracy did a lot of the Tallchief rep.

Weese and Tracy also did a lot of the Patricia McBride rep. Who came before McBride?

#2 Mel Johnson

Mel Johnson

    Diamonds Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,311 posts

Posted 01 November 2002 - 03:23 PM

Fascinatingly, Farrell and Tallchief overlapped slightly at NYCB, in the early 60s when the former was a soloist, and the latter returned to reprise some of her old roles, and also, it seemed, to dance Balanchine's "Swan Lake" with Erik Bruhn. That's all he seemed to do that season, and moved on right after it. I recall a program containing both "Raymonda Variations" and "Firebird" in which Farrell danced one of the former, and Tallchief the title character of the latter.

I do wonder if Dream is as much a "letter to the Muse", (at least in the person of Farrell), as some of the others, as it was set on Melissa Hayden. I saw it back at City Center, then next again during opening week at State Theater. Suzanne had already started to make the role her own, and a couple years later, when Hayden returned to her original role for an occasional performance, it was such a contrast!

#3 Mel Johnson

Mel Johnson

    Diamonds Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,311 posts

Posted 01 November 2002 - 03:46 PM

You know, you're right about Adams! I had forgot about the pregnancy, which caused a casting shakeup at the company for awhile. Things got even less predictable than they were previously in that season, and substitutions in both casting and program became the rule. And if I recall right, sadly, that pregnancy didn't work out, and she lost the baby.:)

#4 Mel Johnson

Mel Johnson

    Diamonds Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,311 posts

Posted 01 November 2002 - 04:10 PM

I don't feel it's exactly afield of the topic, as it marked her retirement from the stage and her full-time attention could then be paid to the directorship of SAB. Balanchine then had a synoptic eye in the school, at which, by the 60s, he had started to become less comfortable. Having Adams there, his standards and practices for NYCB could be worked into the program, and his technical reforms, love them or hate them, could be regularized into the curriculum.:)

#5 Mel Johnson

Mel Johnson

    Diamonds Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,311 posts

Posted 01 November 2002 - 05:10 PM

As to her look, I would recall a "Balanchine dancer" type, moving toward the mannerist profile, long of leg, and small of head, but not there yet. Kay Mazzo became the epitome of this type. Tallchief was, in her generation, a tallish dancer, but by the sixties was sort of a compact model of where the dancers of that decade were headed.

#6 Mel Johnson

Mel Johnson

    Diamonds Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,311 posts

Posted 15 November 2002 - 04:22 AM

A bit of O/T here - the sheer number of various dancers who had work set on them by Balanchine starts to remind me of the finale of the Thornton Wilder play, The Skin of Our Teeth. "Miss A Muse, Miss B Muse, Miss C Muse....";)

And now back to our topic.

#7 Mel Johnson

Mel Johnson

    Diamonds Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,311 posts

Posted 15 November 2002 - 03:59 PM

Wasn't it the 1940 film I Was an Adventuress that featured a parody of a Hollywoodized Act II Swan Lake staged by Balanchine for Zorina, and if you look quickly, you'll see him as the orchestra conductor?

#8 Alexandra

Alexandra

    Board Founder

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 9,242 posts

Posted 01 November 2002 - 07:57 AM

Good question, fendrock! In addition to what Farrell Fan posted, I think that it often happens that history remembers the latest as the greatest. But Tallchief was extremely important, not just to Balanchine and NYCB, but to American Ballet in general. A friend of mine who's been watching NYCB since the early 1950s told me that Tallchief was Balanchine's first true ballerina, and that's why he staged "Nutcracker" -- before, he'd had people who could do the steps, but no one with a ballerina aura.

#9 Alexandra

Alexandra

    Board Founder

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 9,242 posts

Posted 01 November 2002 - 08:11 AM

I didn't see Tallchief, so can't really comment -- I'm sure someone here has. Conjuring atm :)

#10 Alexandra

Alexandra

    Board Founder

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 9,242 posts

Posted 01 November 2002 - 02:23 PM

I think there were a lot of Tallchief imitators dancing around in the 1950s -- that was a different age, less media coverage, etc., but she was a prototype, in the sense of model, THE model one strove to imitate at that time.

#11 Alexandra

Alexandra

    Board Founder

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 9,242 posts

Posted 01 November 2002 - 03:02 PM

I didn't mean that she had descendants at NYCB but that she was a model for her generation across companies. If one look at Dance Mag during that period, one will see dancers with her silhouette -- and she is in many of the little collections of articles about dancers made into books at that time. One could certainly argue that Fonteyn was THE ballerina type in the West, but I think Tallchief was there, too.

#12 Alexandra

Alexandra

    Board Founder

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 9,242 posts

Posted 02 November 2002 - 06:38 PM

calliope, calliope, come back.....

FF, there's an essay by Croce called "Farrell and Farrellisms" where she complained -- or pointed out -- the changes in style that were creeping into the company in the 1970s, because the corps women were imitating Farrell's idyosyncracies (the arms, the hands, the off-center poses). I was struck by how clean and, well, old-fashioned the dancing looked in DC. Happily so, I might add :) (I liked Farrell's style for her, but grew tired of seeing it cloned.)

#13 Alexandra

Alexandra

    Board Founder

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 9,242 posts

Posted 01 November 2002 - 08:50 PM

Here is a description by Anatole Chujoy from the book "Dancers and Critics." (Each critic got to pick a dancer. Wish Chujoy posted on the internet from Heaven. He begins his essay by explaining that there's a difference between a musician and someone who whistles "Yankee Doodle", and between a craftsman and an artist." He thought of Tallchief "how close she comes to the standard of the perfect artist."

Of medium height, she has nearly the ideal body for a dancer.  Her legs are long and beautifully shaped. Their wonderful contour belies their strength.  She has no protruding calf muscles which often indicate the power reservoir of the terre-a-terre dancer, yet her releves are spring-like, her beats fast and clean cut. Her feet are welldeveloped and her pointes are strong and well placed.  In the lifts en arabesque often used by George Balanchine, in which the lifted dancer describes an arc, her forward leg and foot look like a sharp, penetrating arrow.

Her aplomb is effortless and unwavering. Her hipos have a boyish shape and apparently great muscular power. Although her developpes are soft, her grande seconde is firm and geometrically perfect. ...

Tallchief's turns are very fast and precise, and in her dancing she apparently strives for precision and speed rather than for the number of turns...

So far as it is sen on the stage her elevation is moderate, her ballon good.  She does entrechat-six low off the floor, a great achievement for a woman and an excellent demonstratoin of her ability to remain in the air even at a low altitude.....

The ballerinas style of dancing can best be described as exciting. She has a way of bringing fire to every part she dances, so much so that thus far no role created by Tallchief has been completely successfully danced by any other artist.  Cold, hard, sharp, on occasion brittle, Tallchief's dancing has a technical brilliance which is rarely duplicated in full measure by any other dancer....


In his 25 year career as a choreographer, Balanchine has not found a greater executant of his ballets, a more fluent and eloquent interpreter of his choreogrpahic ideas or, stylistically, a more perfect creator of flesh-and-blood images of his artistic conceptions."

He said she wasn't a dramatic dancer, but "a classic dancer with all the technical perfection and absence of histrionics this term implies."

This is his picture of Tallchief at 25.

Amy -- I gave away my copy of "Conversation with the Muses" so I can't check, but that would have a list of her created roles. Chujoy lists Symphony in C -- he doesn't say which role -- and the Siren in Prodigal as the ones in which she made an impression.

Another Balanchine muse -- and, I think, archetype, since he once said that he wished everyone in the company moved as she did -- was Diana Adams, a dancer who's always interested me more than Tallchief (not fair; I haven't seen either of them except on bits of film).

Tallchief and Adams are from the pre-Farrell (and pre-Agon) world of Balanchine.

Who was the Diaghilev, pre-American prototype? Doubrovska? Danilova?

#14 Alexandra

Alexandra

    Board Founder

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 9,242 posts

Posted 02 November 2002 - 03:27 PM

I think that's true -- although by now the Whelan prototype is taking over.

What's interesting about the Farrell Week in DC is that it seemed to be a throwback to the Tallchief era. There were no Farrellisms!

#15 Alexandra

Alexandra

    Board Founder

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 9,242 posts

Posted 03 November 2002 - 08:26 AM

Thank you for that, liebling -- that's just what it looks like, too :)

Keith, I'd nominate Anthony Dowell as one of Ashton's Muses -- onstage Muses, I hasten to add.


0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users


Help support Ballet Alert! and Ballet Talk for Dancers year round by using this search box for your amazon.com purchases (adblockers may block display):